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Faced with a bleak future of depopulation and possible oblivion, Japan’s rural communities are looking to gray power for a new lease on life.

Helping them is a private nonprofit organization that has launched a nationwide movement to help retired city dwellers live in the country.

The Tokyo-based NPO, set up by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) in April, acts as an intermediary between rural villages hoping for an inflow of urbanites and city slickers seeking to retire in the country.

The Return-to-Hometown Movement Promotion and Support Center wants to help as many as 1 million people relocate to quieter communities in cooperation with the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations and co-ops.

In the past, rural efforts to promote exchanges with city people were mainly sponsored by local governments in areas suffering depopulation.

The NPO decided to initiate the movement because it found that many people who moved from rural areas to cities during the years of steep economic growth want to return to the country as pensioners.

The support center does not propose they take up farming. It instead encourages them to start new businesses by making good use of their knowhow and experiences gained in the city.

“The most pressing issue for many rural areas is decreasing population,” said Wahei Tatematsu, a writer and director general of the NPO support center. “If manpower is available, many rural communities can be resurrected.

“What rural communities need is the product-development abilities and marketing skills that urban dwellers have accumulated as company employees,” he added.

The support center sent questionnaires to Japan’s 3,200-odd local governments inquiring about their preparations for accepting people from big cities, including measures to help them find work and enjoy short stays. It is now analyzing their responses.

In October, the center plans to survey about 50,000 city dwellers to ask if they want to return to their rural hometowns, and if they do, what support measures they need.

It will also establish a return-to-hometown support center in every prefecture within three years.

The city of Iiyama, Nagano Prefecture, has already responded to the NPO’s activities. The municipal government established a return support center in April.

It holds a seminar on the third Wednesday of every month in Tokyo on how to live in the countryside.

At the seminar, people who have moved to Iiyama relate their experiences and offer advice on how to find a job, a house and how to get along with locals.

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